I arrived in the Land of the Morning Calm at 9:09 p.m. In my first three hours here, albeit in the evening, I’m pretty calm myself.
My long flight from Chicago to Tokyo was flawless and, dare I say, delightful. I decided not to take an Ativan for anxiety because I realized that taking the pill wouldn’t actually keep the plane from crashing. Instead, I practiced my yoga breathing and watched “We’re the Millers” and “Enough Said.”
I sat next to a young Honduran woman, who was coming to Seoul to visit relatives. She was the perfect seat mate for the entire journey–quiet, sleepy and a tad overwhelmed. She kissed me on the check when we parted company after 18 plus hours together. I asked if her family was picking her up at the airport. She said, “Si.” Then she asked if my friends were picking me up. I told her that I didn’t have any friends in Seoul. She looked perplexed.
Yup, I’m all alone in Seoul.
Yet, I do not feel perplexed. I feel perfectly fine. Not even a glimpse of the Sea of Lonely is encroaching on me.
Without much trouble, I found the right bus to take into Seoul–there are dozens, all going to different parts of the city. It’s fantastically efficient and easy. And completely sans chaos. Pay. Ride. Alight.
But once I alighted, I had a good 40 minutes of walking in search of my small hotel. I finally went into a major hotel and asked the concierge to help me find my place. He looked it up on the computer and printed a map for me. He was accommodating and agreeable.
I found the hotel after walking for another 20 minutes on fairly dark streets that sparkled from a nice light snowfall. No one bothered me. No one called me Mee-Guk. No one spit at me. Those who noticed me just smiled. My giant blondness is no longer a novelty here. The airport, bus and streets are chock full of Westerners.
The chill in the air is the same as I remember, though. The Korean night air in January will freeze your stone cold heart. But my heart, hardened to Seoul so long ago, is already showing signs of melting.
The hotel receptionist checked me in right away, gave me a lovely room and 20 business cards to hand out to my cab drivers to show them how to get me back here. “Difficult location,” he said.
I smiled. He smiled.
So now I am in my cute little room, close to a couple of places I know, and will visit tomorrow. Seoul Tower and Namdaemun Market.
One image from 1988 still stands out in my mind: red flourescent crosses dotting Seoul’s skyline. A Buddhist country. A Confucius Country. Why, then, was the central Christian symbol so dominant? I never could figure it out.
On the bus drive into town, I looked for them again. Smaller now because the city is larger, but they still stand. Instead of wondering why they’re here, though, I thought about the meaning of the symbol.
The reason I’m here.